When I started this little series, my only thought was to share some of the bits of things I encountered while fossicking in the beautiful Armitt Library. I didn’t intend to hone in on a single conference, but as it happens, that how it turned out. Today’s post, once again, grew out of something that occurred at the 1909 (got the date!—notice the “Gibson Girl” silhouettes) conference at Ambleside. A few very specific details—like the number of attendees—are included here, but mostly it is one person’s impression. One of the attendees wrote this “narration” of the week in verse form, and it was published in the L’Umile Pianta for everyone to enjoy, along with the illustration. Definitely eye-catching! (Especially since most pages are blocks of solid text.) First, I’ll share the poem, and then I’ll share my thoughts.
“At Ambleside in Westmorland, Scale How all tranquil lay,
When a murmur like a tidal wave came booming from far away,
Bright young students by the score, we have sighted fifty-four;
They are swarming up the drive, brains alert and minds alive.
Cram the class room full of chairs—some must sit upon the floor.
Then spake Miss Parish gently, “I know you will forgive me
If I say a word in season our exuberance to still.
We are not rowdy boys that we should make a noise—
To let no Amblesider have a reason to deride her
Is the student’s obvious duty, and she can, she ought, she will!”
A student then inquired if it was to be desired
That a pupil should be punished who objected to obey.
But all decided promptly that to punish was a weakness—
To keep a child from sinning you should have her from the beginning,
When others had not had a chance to spoil her well before.
—Here another spoke with meekness
“But I have from the beginning, tried to keep my child from sinning
And I cannot find a way to teach her to obey.”
Then spoke Miss Kitching (W.) “The child would never trouble you
Had you had her as a baby ere her mother had a chance,
But the lady interrupted with a most pathetic glance:
“But I am the infant’s mother. I have trained her, and no other!”
Here the students feelings carried them away.
And the days flew by, as they used to fly, in the dear old time of yore,
And never a moment the fervour waned, of the blissful fifty-four.
Day after day the whole week through, they came to discuss and to hear.
Day after day, the business done, they turned their thoughts to good cheer.
And some they walked, and some they talked until they could talk no more,
In all our annals was ever a conference like this in the world before?
And the days flew by, and the week was done, did ever week go so fast?
but the bountiful inspiration it brought is a thing that is going to last;
And far away now from dear Scale How, our hearts are rooted there still,
And we vow (if allowed) to return in a crowd—a vow which we mean to fulfil.” —L.M.G.
First of all, yes, I know it’s not great poetry. This was a generation brought up to immortalize things in verse, and so they did. It’s the spiritual equivalent of an Instagram post or a Tweet—a snapshot that shares one person’s thoughts for everyone to enjoy (including us, now!).
What got my attention the first time I read this was the discussion about teaching children to obey. Just think about it. All these young women (some of them now married with children of their own, but not all) had trained at Ambleside under the direct tutelage of a living Charlotte Mason. When the question of obedience came up, their answers were textbook—habit training from the beginning is the key. But this young mother had had the same teaching as the rest and found it difficult to implement with her own young child. The governesses and teachers could shake their heads and lament, “If only we could train the children from the beginning before their mothers spoil them!” But this honest young mother acknowledged that it was easier said than done! “But I am the infant’s mother! I have trained her, and no other.” My only point being—don’t be too hard on yourself. This young mother was Charlotte Mason trained before ever she had her first child, and she wasn’t able to achieve perfect results. They are likely beyond our reach, and we can only do the best we can. Notice how it caused an uproar, but no one seemed to have any practical advice to offer after that?
When I went back over this poem to prepare for this post, a different line caught my attention, and I think this one is my favorite. “They are swarming up the drive, brains alert and minds alive.” I have seen this with my own eyes, and it is a beautiful thing. It has been my privilege to attend and to speak at a number of difference Charlotte Mason conferences or gatherings, and “brains alert and minds alive” is exactly what I have met at every single one of them. “Was there ever a conference like this in the world before?” Not then, perhaps, but now there is an abundance and an embarrassment of riches. If you’ve ever had the privilege of attending a conference of any size (they numbered 54!), I think you will probably agree. It is a delight to meet and share with fellow Charlotte Mason educators. Notice how eager they were to repeat the experience!
“The bountiful inspiration it brought is a thing that is going to last.” It’s true! But the inspiration has to come day by day, just as we must breathe new air each day. Charlotte Mason herself found that she needed to read and reread and keep her thoughts focused on the big picture. From a letter she wrote to the students after one conference:
A man does not inspire once in a lifetime or once in a day. He keeps himself alive by regular acts of inspiration. You have come here now, no doubt, for a little of the old mountain air, for a revival of the old impressions and aspirations. But we must draw from our sources at all times. Your definite and distinct code of educational principles must be kept fresh in your minds by reading and re-reading your books and pamphlets and reports. It really is not an easy thing to keep the whole in mind. I often forget myself, and have to go through a laborious course of thought to find why it is best to do this rather than the other.
Did you catch that? Charlotte Mason said, “I often forget myself!” Small wonder that we do the same. I was fascinated to read Charlotte Mason’s declaration: “Your definite and distinct code of educational principles must be kept fresh in your minds.” It doesn’t do to read once and then go on. We really do need to keep those principles in mind, as a whole, as best we can. It’s one reason I went outside my comfort zone and created a visual for the principles that we can keep nearby for inspiration! Brains alert and minds alive—never stop learning.
While I could keep going with this series, this post marks fourteen weeks in a row in which I have posted something new to this blog, which is probably some kind of record (for me). I’m going to stop here and devote some time to other projects, including the newsletter I meant to start in January! I have future blog series planned, so I’ll be back when I’ve got something to share. If you haven’t already signed up for my newsletter, please do! You’ll get original content, early news of upcoming projects, and a free printable of the twenty principles in a short form, which makes a handy reference bookmark for In Vital Harmony or any other Charlotte Mason book you might be reading.
(Please click “email” to give me permission to send you the newsletter, in compliance with GDPR.)
As I prepared for this series, I visited the Armitt website and discovered that the enforced closure is hurting them very much. They rely on visitor ticket sales to fund the museum, and during the closure, they have nothing except any donations they might receive. My goal with this series was merely to offer some light-hearted and interesting tidbits I gleaned during my visits, but I’m going to add here that if you enjoy this series and the virtual visit to the Armitt, please consider sending them a small donation—their link will explain how you can do that.